Pali Lift Interviews. a huge lesson from selfless conversation
I have never liked small talk. Especially on ski lifts.
But today was different. In a somewhat last minute decision to take advantage of the great snow we’ve been getting out here, I took off alone early this morning and drove out to A-Basin, my usual go-to place for skiing. In my opinion, you can’t beat the high-altitude scenery, steep, aggressive terrain, the sounds of avalanche grenades echoing through the skies, Pallavacini, and live music at the base.
But I digress. Let me tell you, something incredible happened today.
I forced myself to not just make small talk to people on the lift, but rather to step out of my comfort zone and actually interview them. This was inspired by an incredible podcast that I listened to on the drive up, Timothy Ferriss, who interviews a world-famous interviewer named Cal Fussman. It’s a long podcast, but it had my full attention from start to finish. If you want to check it out, here it is.
This is a guy who used his unique ability to interview to schmooze free food and lodging on a 10 year trek through Europe… eventually leading to world-class interviews with Mohammad Ali, to Mikhail Gorbachev and many more.
It was the story of his interview with Gorbachev that really impacted me. Long story short, a 90 minute scheduled interview was cut short to 10 minutes, leaving Cal, the interviewer, feeling extremely stressed, wondering how he was going to be able to write a story with just a 10 minute, translated interview. Instead of asking about Ronald Reagan, or nuclear weaponry, or the totally cliche topic of ‘the Cold War’, he decided to take a different approach. He asked him to simply tell what the most important lesson that his (Gorbachev’s) father ever taught him. The outcome was amazing. (Listen to the podcast)
In my endless pursuit of getting the most value out of this short life, I realized that I have been missing a tremendous opportunity. If you prod enough, you can gain value from everyday strangers. To test this hypothesis, I decided to interview unsuspecting ski lift mates. This didn’t come comfortably for me.
I got a total of 4 interviews. Here’s a summary:
Lift ride #1: The Boulder, Colorado Apple Thief
I sat next to a woman and decided to play it safe with a typical, but effective ice breaker: “Where are you from?”. With a series of open ended questions, I quickly learned that 2 years ago, she was a chef in Summit County at Keystone’s Alpenglow Stube. Normally, this would be where I’d start talking about myself, “Oh yeah? I used to work at Keystone with the ski patrol”. Blah blah blah
But I stayed focused. This is an interview, after all.
I then asked what her what recipe she’s most proud to make for a dinner guest. She laughed, not expecting a question like that, and went on to tell me she loves pastries and tarts. Fully enjoying this, I continued: “What’s the best kind of apple for baking the perfect apple pie”? A sincere question, as I like to make an apple pie about once a year and I take a lot of pride in apple choice (Golden Delicious). I got to hear a story about how she goes for morning walks in Boulder, CO and picks apples off of the neighborhood trees and makes apple pies almost weekly. I was loving the story, but got caught short at the top of the lift, and my favorite part of this came at the top when she belted out a huge laugh and exclaimed, “I would have never thought I’d find myself talking about apple pies on the ski lift!”. Bingo! I did it! And it was everythingI hoped it would be. Who knew that my favorite part of my day on the mountain come from the ski lift.
Three other interviews ensued:
- A snowboarder who works at A-Basin (instructor), we talked about Switzerland, New Zealand, and pondered reasons why it seems Americans are typically not nice enough to each other (compared to other countries).
- An Doctor from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver. We talked about ITP (Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura), diabetes, and the evolvement of the American diet.
- A CU student, also from Boulder. We compared Colorado Springs to Boulder, two polar opposites with great mountain scenery, along with the goods-and-bads from both. We talked about politics, and I got to hear about his drunken 2AM adventure out and into Mt. Sanitas after a night out of drinking. To be in college again…
- A 13 year old skier on the Summit Ski Team, who mostly complained about the topcoat coming off his ski, and the broken zipper on his jacket, and how “everything is breaking today, and they even groomed over their bumps course”. Turns out I don’t really know how to interview kids. Hey, I tried.
It’s no secret that if you want people to like you, give them an opportunity to talk about themselves.
But this is easier said than done. Because, people, including US as in ME and YOU, like to talk about ourselves. Not all, but most. But here’s what I learned:
If you can train yourself to put others around you in the full, complete spotlight, two key things will start to happen:
1. You become liked. For each of my ski lift interviews (maybe with the exception of the 13 year old), I felt really liked at the end. I felt like I could easily go and have a beer with any of them and keep going at it, and I felt like I could easily become friends with each of them, even (gasp), the 20-something snowboarder.
2. You leave with added value. I learned tidbits about how to make a better pie, how to keep diabetes away, and what it feels/felt like to be a carefree college student again.
I’m still thinking about how I want to take this awesome epiphany and apply it to my life, but I will be thinking hard to build it into my daily routine and habits.